On Plotting, Setting, and other Flammable Materials

It’s confession week, and I confess: I’ve become a plotter.

No one is more shocked by this than I am.

Work on Monsters, my side-novel, is going like gangbusters, leaving me feeling like a fool for being such a hard-core pantser for so many years. To prepare for Monsters I did a hybridization of the techniques in Save the Cat and Michael Stackpole’s 21 Days to a Novel workshop (and whatever you may feel about Stackpole’s literary merits, the fact remains that he is a science fiction writer living in freakin’ Scottsdale, so he must be doing something right, a lot of somethings, probably more somethings than you or I will ever do) and thus have a fairly comprehensive outline of the plot and several of the characters.

Only two things are really tripping me up here: Well, one giant thing: Setting.

Monsters is set on an alternate earth in the Ural Mountains.

Photo by Lyuda

I am a fantasist. I’ve never tried to do a novel set on earth. It makes me nervous. I can’t afford to fly to Russia, you know? Of course I’m going to get things wrong, and I really hate getting things wrong. I don’t even like to talk about something unless I feel fairly confident I have my facts straight, let alone write about it.

In addition to this, I’m still feeling around as to the specific time that Monsters takes place. At first it was pretty medieval, but kept getting more modern the more I thought about it. I finally settled on a major divergence point in history- the 30 Years War.

On my alternate earth, there were mages, but they all killed each other in spectacular fashion during the war, leaving Eastern Europe riddled with pockets of magical nuclear fallout and no one left to clean up the mess.

Now I’m trying to decide how long ago that was for my characters. At first I thought they lived through it, now I’m wondering if it isn’t something from their grandparent’s time. Gotta give those pockets of nasty magic time to work, you know.

So I find myself in a weird position of alternating between pumping out chapters and taking week-long pauses to do homework. I know the general rule of thumb is just to get your draft done and then fill in the blanks later, but how am I supposed to write a scene involving, say, gunpowder, if I don’t know anything about gunpowder? What is it made of? How did people transport it? Was it expensive? Difficult to obtain?

This is how I drive myself crazy.

So at this point I’ve accepted the fact that I need to actually go to a library. And when I say “go to a library” I mean bring a tent and a crate of Sterno cans and camp out for a few months.

There’s also a whole other kettle of sharks with Monsters: namely, writing about indigenous people while middle class and white. But that is another post for another time, as I could easily write another 500 words on the subject. So until next time, happy writing, and remember kids, black gunpowder is 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur, and you can make it all by yourself!*

*warning, may involve peeing on straw and letting the resultant muck stew for several months.